Sometimes the most challenging part of losing weight isn't the time spent shedding the pounds; it's sticking with the exercise and nutrition plan that got results in the first place for months, and even years, after the initial weight loss occurred.
According to the Boston Medical Center, an estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, spending roughly $33 billion annually on weight-loss products. Yet, research by Gary Foster, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and obesity investigator, shows that nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years.
Restrictive eating plans can be difficult to maintain over time and when people return to their old habits, it can lead to weight gain. That's why the Fittest Loser Challenge is less about "dieting" and more about creating lifestyle changes that contestants can follow long after the competition ends.
The nutrition plan trainers at Push Fitness have created for the contestants is based on eating a variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, proteins, and starches.
An eating plan that incorporates all of these elements gives contestants all the nutrients they need while providing them with many breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options, preventing boredom and making the eating plan easier to follow.
For example, they can choose from a variety of meats as their source of protein, avocados, nuts, and different oils as their source of healthy fats, and from a large assortment of fruits and vegetables.
"Proper nutrition is the single most important factor affecting long-term weight loss management. You can't just restrict calories and expect to lose weight," said Josh Steckler, owner of Push Fitness. "You must continue to eat plenty of nutrient dense foods while cutting out the sugary foods that cause weight gain and inflammation."
Ultimately, each individual has to find the nutrition and exercise routine that works best for them, but dietitians and trainers have a few standard tips that can work for almost anyone.
Here are their top tips for maintaining weight loss
1. Start your day with a workout.
Michelle Jeeninga, a certified personal trainer at Push Fitness who is training contestant Shelly Daley, said getting your workout in bright and early is key to keeping weight off.
"Working out early before work forces you to get up and get moving," Jeeninga said. "This way you don't have any excuses (about no being able to exercise) after work."
2. Maintain a food journal.
Contestants are asked to keep a food journal throughout the competition to log what they eat each day.
Writing down your food choices can help you understand what you like to eat, how often you snack or nibble on foods between meals, and if something is missing in the diet (such as not enough vegetables or fruits).
Continuing to log food intake after weight loss has occurred keeps healthy eating habits at the top of your mind and can help people quickly notice if they slip back into old eating patterns.
"Pick two to three days of the week to log everything you eat and drink using your favorite calorie counter," said Samantha Woulfe, a registered dietitian with Jewel-Osco, who helped contestants learn how make healthy purchases at the store. "This helps hold you accountable to your food choices."
3. Do not skip meals.
It's tempting to skip breakfast or lunch when you're trying to cut calories or don't have time to prep food, but Woulfe said skipping meals won't help people keep the weight off.
"Skipping meals leads to overeating," said Woulfe. To combat this, Woulfe suggests prepping food in advance, especially if you notice that you're skipping the same meal (i.e. breakfast) again and again.
"If you tend to skip meals, try preparing that meal the night before, so it is ready to go the next day," Woulfe said.
4. Plan your meals weekly.
Once Monday morning hits, it's go, go, go. It's easy to forget to pack a healthy lunch or stop by the grocery store to buy ingredients for dinner.
Instead, experts suggest sitting down ahead of a busy week and planning out each meal. Decide what you'll have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and what you'll pack for snacks.
Not only does this allow you to have a healthy eating plan in place, it can make your grocery shopping and cooking experiences more efficient.
It also can cut down on the number of trips made to the store because you can buy most of your ingredients during one shopping trip at the beginning of the week. In addition, planning your meals allows you to use the same ingredients for multiple lunches and dinners, which saves time and money.
For example, you can cook rice in bulk at the beginning of the week and then pair it with different vegetables and protein sources for the next few meals.
5. Prep meals in advance.
It takes more than planning out meals each week to eat healthy. To ensure you can follow through with your plan, prep food in advance so you can always take healthy items with you.
"If you are not good at passing up unhealthy options on the go, prepping food will help you be successful," Jeeninga said.
Remember, you can prep almost any meal or snacks. For example, pack serving sizes of granola or nuts into individual baggies at the start of the week. so all you need to do is grab a bag when heading out the door. For lunch or dinner, make a base ingredient like rice or spaghetti squash in bulk and top with different vegetables and proteins at each meal.
6. Eat breakfast every day.
Steckler suggests eating a quality breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up. A good quality meal is a combination of all three macronutrients -- proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
7. Choose exercises with maximum benefits.
Steckler said to include big movements such as dead lifts, squats, lunges, overhead presses, pushups, burpees, and planks into your workout routine because of how much they require muscles to work.
"These exercises require maximum muscle recruitment, therefore you'll get more out of your workout when you include these exercises," Steckler said.
8. Time Your meals.
Steckler said individuals need to control their caloric intake and maintain blood sugar levels to maintain their weight loss.
At Push Fitness, they recommend dividing calories up among five meals per day, with each meal consisting of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. After breakfast, eat something about every three hours to support healthy blood sugar levels.
9. Be aware of liquid calories.
Liquids such as juice, smoothies, alcohol, and soda can contain a large amount of calories and added sugar. To keep weight off, avoid "drinking" your calories.
"Be aware of all the calories you may be consuming in liquids and focus on drinking more water instead," said Steckler.
10. Be consistent.
Steckler said being consistent with a nutrition and exercise plan is key.
"Find a diet and exercise program that works for you, and stick with it," said Steckler.